Being there (3)

2 Corinthians 1:4 MSG

When we’re trying to be there for someone, we can be sympathetic or we can go one step further and be empathetic. While sympathy shows compassion and kindness, empathy provides understanding. Empathy is putting ourselves into their shoes. Walking the pain with them. And true empathy can only come from having gone through the same, or similar, experience. Throughout the Bible, we’re reminded that Jesus faced suffering. He had to face temptation from the devil, grief over the death of His friend Lazarus, He was betrayed by His friend and He had to die on the cross. So when we’re facing temptation, loneliness, grief, betrayal or death, we know that Jesus has been there before us. He understands. He’s walked in our shoes. And He will be there through it all. The Bible says that God ‘comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.’ The things we have to go through can be used to help other people. We may be desperate for God to take the situation away from us, but He can bring something good from it. ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28 NIV). Sometimes that something good is the fact that we can be there for someone else who’s facing the same situation. So when we’re going through hard times, we can remember that not only does Jesus fully understand how we’re feeling, but that we’re also being equipped to be the best people to ‘be there’ for others.

Gal 5:23; Isa 40:9-11; Isa 42:1-4; Ps 18:31-35

Freedom (1)

Exodus 3:8 NIV

For 400 years the Israelites were enslaved by Egyptian taskmasters who oppressed them and ‘made their lives bitter’ (Exodus 1:14 NIV). Many of us can relate to their feelings of helplessness when we think about areas in our own lives where we struggle with habits. Whether it’s food, alcohol, money, procrastination or something else, we’ve probably all felt a little powerless and hopeless while trying to find freedom. And that can lead to us choosing to give up and just give in to being enslaved. Broken and crushed, the Israelites cried out to the Lord and He responded, ‘I have…seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out…and I am concerned about their suffering’ (Exodus 3:7 NIV). God extended compassion toward them: ‘So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into…a land flowing with milk and honey’ (v. 8 NIV). God came down to bring them up – and He can do the same for us today. The idea of God coming down in order to bring us up gives us hope. We don’t have to try and work for freedom alone. God intervenes. Our habits and sins are not too much for Him. When we admit we’ve gone wrong and ask Him to help us find freedom, He doesn’t turn away from us. Instead, He steps down into the situation and helps us to loosen the chains that have been around us. The Bible says: ‘The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Corinthians 3:17 NCV). So when the Spirit of the Lord steps down into our situations, there is freedom.

Judg 1-3; Mark 10:1-12; Ps 88:1-9a; Prov 13:1-3

Separating the sheep from the goats

Matthew 25:32 NLT

Jesus describes the judgment day in these words: “All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me'” (vv. 32-36 NLT). How will Jesus separate the sheep from the goats? And how will you know which one you are? Jesus says those on the right – the sheep – will be those who fed Him when He was hungry, brought Him water when He was thirsty, gave Him lodging when He was lonely, clothing when He was naked, and comfort when He was sick or imprisoned. The sign of the saved is their concern for those in need. Compassion doesn’t save them – or us. Salvation is the work of Christ. But compassion is the consequence of salvation. The sheep will react with a sincere question: When? When did we feed, visit, clothe, or comfort you? Then Jesus will answer, “Every time you showed compassion – you did it to me!” Try to keep that in mind as you go through this day.

Soul food: Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:1-11; Eph 4:7-10

Don’t be a sluggard (4)

Proverbs 24:30 NKJV

It is better to be short-handed than to hire a sluggard; better to have nobody than a lazy body. Evidently Solomon had suffered through a few sluggards on his payroll: “As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy man” (Proverbs 10:26 NKJV). You know how irritating vinegar is when it’s taken straight, or how aggravating smoke is when it gets in your eyes! That’s how irritating a lazy person is to the one who hires him. Whatever he does will take twice as long to finish, and will either have to be done over or thrown out – at twice the cost. His presence on the job is worse than his absence. He wastes his own resources and everybody else’s. A tragic picture is painted in Proverbs 24:30-31: “I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down.” Now let’s be clear here: We must show compassion toward those who are down and out for legitimate reasons. But they need more than a handout; they need a hand up! They need more than food and clothes; they need purpose, dignity, and self-worth. And that’s what God wants us to give them. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t great because he was born in a log cabin; he was great because he got out of it. Now, the chances are you won’t end up in the White House, but unless you want to end up in the poorhouse, don’t be a sluggard!

Soul food: Acts 20-21; Mark 5:1-10; Ps 144:1-8; Prov 11:10-11

Show them God’s love

Luke 7:44 NKJV

Luke writes: “Behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, ‘This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner'” (vv. 37-39 NKJV). This scene took place in the house of Simon, a religious leader who was more concerned about “right and wrong” than he was about hurting people. He may have been theologically correct, but he lacked compassion. And Jesus confronted him about it! “He turned to the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?'” Simon saw her as a streetwalker and a loser. But not Jesus. He responded to the gift she brought and to the heart of love behind it. In determining her future potential to God’s Kingdom, He didn’t consult her sordid past or even refer to it. He saw her tears, understood her need, and shocked the religious crowd that day by saying, “Your sins are forgiven” (v. 48 NKJV). Be careful: When you’ve been in church for a while and forgotten what it’s like to be on the outside, you can become hard-hearted and fail to show the love of God to those who need it.

Soul food: Gal 5:22; 2 Pet 3:3-15; Matt 5:39; 1 Sam 25:1-42